Five things about women in the press
Lord Justice Leveson’s report into press standards criticised the way women are depicted in the newspapers, something that has struck a chord with campaigners. What do activists object to most?
In its 2,000-page verdict, the report says some papers “often failed to show consistent respect for the dignity and equality of women generally”.
There is only limited recent research on how the UK press treats women. Here are five of the most common complaints about the portrayal of women in newspapers:
In many cases there is no marked difference between pornography and some of the pictures in the tabloids, Anna Van Heeswijk of campaign group Object, told the Leveson Inquiry. During her evidence, she also cited the example of a Daily Star story in 2001 about the singer Charlotte Church, then aged 15, with the commentary: “She’s a big girl now… looking chest swell”.
A report by Object and three other women’s campaign groups surveyed 11 British newspapers over a fortnight in September. It found “excessive objectification of women in some parts of the press, reducing them entirely to sexual commodities in a way that would not be broadcast on television, nor allowed in the workplace because of equality legislation”.
Wives and mothers
The WAG – wife or girlfriend – popularised during the 2006 World Cup is a tabloid staple. These women are celebrated for whom they are dating rather than what they do.The report by Object said the papers are often too quick to stereotype.
On mothers, Siobhan Freegard, co-founder of parenting website Netmums, says the press is doing better. “We’ve seen a big change in how mums are depicted – it’s actually quite cool to be a mum these days,” she says, thanks to depictions of Peaches Geldof or Lily Cooper as mothers before celebrities.
“The only voice we had before would probably have been the Women’s Institute, which has very specific views. I think we can give as good as we get now.”
It was “supermum” Nicola Horlick – a mother-of-six who and investment fund manager in the City – who helped to kick-start a different kind of attitude, she says.
Campaigners have long complained that there is a pronounced tendency across the whole of the media for women to disproportionately appear in passive roles – perhaps as victims of crime – instead of actually doing something.Edwin Smith accepts there may be some truth in the argument that women are presented as victims, but that it reflects a wider culture.
“It’s a symptom of how things have been. It is lazy but it has more widespread appeal to portray women as a victim. And the reader is more likely to sympathise with a woman victim.”
Some newspapers – like the Sun – have campaigned extensively on the issue of domestic violence, of both female and male victims. But there is concern that across the media as a whole, the importance of such issues can be underplayed. The Object report “found instances in which the violence and harm suffered by victims of abuse was marginalised, trivialised or even made invisible”.
Research by Women in Journalism this year, looking at a month of national newspaper newspapers, found that men wrote three quarters of all front-page articles and 84% of those mentioned or quoted in lead pieces were male. The most pictured males were Nicolas Sarkozy, Simon Cowell, and Prince William. The only females regularly pictured were the Duchess of Cambridge, her sister Pippa and Madeleine McCann. The Object report noted that on any given day “several pages of newspapers will appear without any reference to a woman at all, leaving the impression that women make no contribution to broader society”.
Paul Staines, who edits the Guido Fawkes blog, says that as a father of two young daughters he worries about the “unrealistic depiction” of women in the press. Air-brushing is a particular concern. “I sense that when my daughters get older they will try to aspire to impossible standards.”
And often women get a “slightly tougher ride” because the focus is on what they are wearing rather than what they have to say, he adds.
But citing the example of the MP Caroline Flint, who posed in a glamorous red dress and heels for a photo shoot for Observer magazine, he says: “I don’t think any male politician would pose lying on a chaise longue.”
MP turned I’m a Celebrity contestant Nadine Dorries also posed for Tatler, and Louise Mensch posed for GQ while still an MP. Their photos were picked up by the national press. In this sense, says Staines, some female politicians “bring it on themselves” in an attempt to seek publicity.
Source: BBC News December 2012